Doug Lilly, 1929-2018

Doug — and that signature smile.

Last night’s inbox contained the kind of e-mail string none of us wants to see, but the sort that nevertheless insists on showing up all too frequently:

Dear AMS Council Members  –  We lost an AMS Honorary Member yesterday;  see message from Kelvin Droegemeier below.  I was privileged to serve on the School of Meteorology faculty with him for 22 years, and enjoyed eating lunch with him every Friday.  He had a wonderful grasp of physical processes and a great sense of humor.


Begin forwarded message:

 …Dear colleagues,

 Just a quick note that the Nation lost an amazing scientist and former OU School of Meteorology faculty member yesterday.  Doug Lilly, our only National Academy of Sciences member, passed away yesterday at age 89.   Doug joined OU in 1982, I believe, and with me in 1988 wrote the proposal that established the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms.  To say he was brilliant is a VAST understatement.  Every paper he wrote was seminal.  Doug retired from OU in 1994 and mentored some of our most amazing graduates.  After retirement, Doug and his wife, Judy, moved to Nebraska to be with their daughter and family, and Doug’s health had been declining in recent months.  Doug was one of those wonderfully gruff but brilliant people who one loved to be around…. a rare mind that truly transformed science.  He will be missed.


Fred and Kelvin have spoken correctly! But (they would be the first to agree) there’s so much more to Doug’s story (as Kelvin’s brilliant=vast understatement remark suggests). Two classes of audience would like to read more: those who knew him, who’d like a trip down memory lane – and those who didn’t know him, but are open to being inspired.

That doesn’t leave many people sidelined! Fortunately, there’s material on-line that meets the need. It’s a brief bio excerpted from a 2004 Cambridge University Press book, Atmospheric Turbulence and Mesoscale Meteorology: Scientific Research Inspired by Doug Lilly Edited by Evgeni Fedorovich, Richard Rotunno and Bjorn Stevens[1].

The bio starts out this way:

Douglas (Doug) Lilly was born on June 16,1929 in San Francisco, California. He grew up on the San Francisco peninsula where,as he describes it, “there is not much weather!” He states that he was interested in weather and the atmosphere starting from his years in high school in California. The predominant cloud features there were stratus decks that would come into the bay area,stay for a while, and eventually break up. He used to borrow the family car to drive up hills to observe these stratus decks. One might say this was his high school hobby. Doug attended Stanford University and completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1950. At Stanford, he was a member of the rowing crew and of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program. From 1950 to 1953, during the Korean War, he was on active duty in the Navy. He was stationed for a while in Hawaii, and then later on a minesweeper off the coast of Korea. After completing his military service Doug decided to pursue a graduate degree in Meteorology. It was early in his graduate studies at Florida State University (FSU) that Doug first met Judith (Judy) Anne Schuh, who would later become his wife. She was pursuing a degree in Education with a minor in German. They dated for one year and married on August 12,1954 (the year Judy graduated) in her home town Jacksonville, Florida. Their first child, Kathryn Elizabeth,was born July 19,1955 in Tallahassee, Florida. In this same year, Doug completed his Master of Science degree in Meteorology at FSU. During their time living in Florida,and driving back and forth between Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Doug was fascinated with the tropical convection and spent a good deal of the rides with his head out of the car window! In 1956,Doug took a job with Radio Free Europe and the family moved to Munich, Germany. His responsibilities there included prediction of wind directions and weather conditions for the purposes of launching balloons with news pamphlets into Eastern Europe during the early years of the cold war. This was a nice opportunity for Judy to perfect her German in which she had earned a minor in college. Doug also learned German there and later also some French. During this year they lived in the apartment of a retired opera singer…

Hopefully this includes a few morsels about Doug you didn’t know, and (continuing the metaphor) whets your appetite for more. If you do follow through, and give some time to the pdf today, as your  way of privately celebrating a life well lived, you’ll come away inspired. You’ll set the bar for yourself a bit higher. And whether that extra push  proves enduring or only lasts a day or so, it will make you so much more effective you’ll more than recoup the time invested.

You’ll have carried Doug Lilly’s legacy forward.


A small postscript: years ago, when I started this blog, the second post unpacked the Charles Darwin quote on the LOTRW masthead – and tied it to a brief vignette – a seminar Doug gave during the time he lived and worked in Boulder.


[1] Brilliant? There’s an evidence-based litmus test. When the published literature includes a volume entitled Scientific Research inspired by (insert your name here), you’ll know you have arrived.

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